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Samuel Spode

 (1798 - 1872)
Samuel Spode was active/lived in United Kingdom, England, Ireland.  Samuel Spode is known for horse and dog portrait painting, equestrian genre.

Samuel Spode

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Samuel Spode
Samuel Spode 1798-1872, Equestrian Artist
The artist, Samuel Spode, known as Sam, was born on 21st April 1798 and baptized on 23rd May 1798 at Stoke upon Trent, Staffordshire.  His father, who was also named Samuel Spode, was the younger son of Josiah Spode I, the founder of the Spode pottery business.  His mother was Sarah Garner, daughter of Robert Garner who had worked for the potter Thomas Whieldon c.1750, at the same time as Josiah Spode I.

The first 22 years of Sam’s life seemed to have passed without record, although he claimed to have had some legal training with his uncle, Thomas Fenton, who had married Anne, the youngest daughter of Josiah Spode I. 

Sam’s first marriage was to Mary Crewe at Stoke upon Trent on 6th February 1821, the same day as his elder brother, another Josiah Spode, who married Mary Middlemore Garner.

In 1820, the government was marketing the need for free settlers to go to the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania). Both Sam and his brother were interested, and with their new brides, they all four left England about 10 weeks after their weddings and sailed to Hobart. Sam was looking for work with his legal training and in October 1824, he was appointed clerk of the colony’s Supreme Court.  However, unlike his brother, he didn’t settle there, swopped his grant of land for a return passage, and arrived back in England in 1826.

Letters to his uncle Thomas Fenton during the next few years indicate his restless character, always short of money, regularly job hunting for work in a legal office, and considering the possibilities of his paintings. For the three years 1829, 1830 and 1831 only, he appears in the Law Lists as a Country Attorney in Sudbury, Suffolk, though he may have left there by early 1831.  Thereafter he seems to have devoted his time to his paintings, travelling widely in both England and Ireland.

Almost exactly one year after their return to England, Sam’s first wife, Mary Crewe, died on 10th June 1827 leaving Sam with two surviving children.  After Mary’s death, Sam married again seven months later, just before his mentioned move to Sudbury, but his second wife also died six years later in 1834. He then probably had another short marriage before his third wife died in 1837, aged only 20, and he married again, for probably the fourth time, to a girl in Liverpool in 1839, where he was either living or using an address at that time.  None of his marriages after the first produced any children who survived infancy, but the death of his first child by his fourth marriage provided the vital link between his legal and artistic careers. The child’s death was registered by the child’s mother’s brother, and he named the father as Samuel Spode, Solicitor and Artist.

When Sam and his first wife returned from Van Diemen’s Land, they were taken in by Sam’s sister Sarah, the wife of the well known potter Charles James Mason, whose home was a mansion called Heron Cottage, less than a mile from the Mason Ironstone Works at Fenton in the Staffordshire Potteries.  Surviving letters indicate that Sam was living there again in the Spring of 1831, and it was probably about that time that he did two paintings there. His painting of Heron Cottage itself, is now part of the Raven Mason Collection at Keele University.  The other was painted on a hill top about half a mile South West of Heron Cottage, (now on the South side of the cutting for the rerouted A50 Fenton bypass), and when sold by Bonhams in 2010 was described only as “a young girl in red cloak seated upon a horse, with companion and dog beside, within an industrial landscape.” That industrial landscape is clearly similar to the one in the Heron Cottage painting. The country house in the middle distance (centre right) is probably Longton Hall, the site of a mid eighteenth century porcelain factory. The church steeple in the middle distance (centre left) is almost certainly there by use of artistic license to enhance the scene, in the approximate location of Heron Cottage itself, perhaps to represent a planned church which didn’t materialize. The two girls in the picture are likely to be Sam’s daughter Mary and his niece, Florence Elizabeth Coyney neé Mason, whose notes on the Mason family history are quoted in several ceramic reference books on the Mason wares.

The start date for Sam’s career as an artist is uncertain. On the one hand, there is no known evidence that he was painting before his return from Van Diemen’s Land, on the other hand, his discovery of his ability as an artist is unlikely to have suddenly occurred to him at the age of 28 when he returned to England in 1826. What is certain is that he had given serious consideration to making a living out of his paintings before he gave up his legal career c.1831, and there is at least one signed and dated example of his work from 1830.

Identification of his paintings has long been a problem, principally because he never exhibited for the art world.  Until recently, several biographies started with the words “tantalisingly little is known …” about Sam. The majority of his works are signed simply as SPODE, but because so little has been known about Sam and his works, occasionally paintings so signed have been attributed by auctioneers to either a John Spode or George Spode. Despite extensive genealogical research for a one-name study, no firm evidence has been found for any artists with those names.

The other problem of identification is that of distinguishing Sam’s unsigned paintings from his contemporaries who painted similar subjects. A painting which illustrates this problem is that of Bessie Bedlam, and Robin Hood exercising on Lincoln racecourse for Colonel King. Both horses are recorded as race winners in 1827 and 1828, and their owner, Colonel King, died in 1833.  When this painting was auctioned at Christie’s in June 1953, it was attributed to the well documented artist John Frederick Herring I (1795-1865). However, the attribution was amended to Sam Spode by Sotheby’s when they sold it three times between 1983 and June 2006.

Herring’s name also appears in Christie’s auction catalogue of 25 November 1977, having signed a painting dated 1827 attributed to S. SPODE! The scope for confusion is confirmed by the fact that both Herring & Spode may also have painted the same horses. There is a painting of the 1846 Derby winner, Pyrrhus the First by Herring, and also one sold by Tennants in 1999, which was attributed to another almost certainly fictitious artist, W. Spode, who seems likely to be a confusion with the artist Sam Spode.

By 1836, Sam was visiting Ireland to paint racehorses. He painted Birdcatcher, also known as Irish Birdcatcher, the first important Irish-bred thoroughbred to become a major stallion, after he won the Peel Cup at the Curragh on 21st October 1836.

Other notable race horses, for which Sam signed his paintings in the 1840s, include Discord, second in the Derby in 1840, Harkaway dated 1842 (Harkaway won 17 races in Ireland as a 2 and 3 year old), Faugh-a-Ballagh, St. Ledger winner in 1844, The Baron, St. Ledger winner in 1845, and Bryan-o-Linn, winner of a sweepstake at the Curragh in 1847.

Around 1850 the two most prominent racehorses were probably The Flying Dutchman, winner of both the Derby and St Ledger in 1849 and Voltigeur, winner of both the Derby and St Ledger in 1850. There was fierce rivalry between their owners, and a contest between them, billed as “The Match of the Century”, was arranged to be held at York on 13th May 1851, which The Flying Dutchman won by about a length. Sam not only painted each horse separately, but was also at York in 1851 to record The Great Match.

1845 was a notable year in Sam’s life. He was then living and working in Wiltshire, producing at least three paintings featuring Stonehenge in the background, and fathering an illegitimate child in nearby Amesbury.  Stonehenge features in both his largest painting, a named family Coursing at Stonehenge, (which measures 52” x 77”), and also in his portrait of a gentleman on a horse, which sold in 2011 for a then record price of $32,000.

Coursing at Stonehenge was one of his many paintings of hunting action. He also painted Full Cry at Whissendine Brook, near Oakham, Rutland, dated 1835, and undated paintings described by various auctioneers as Leaping the Fence, Over the Fence, Coursing Scene, On the Scent, etc.

Patronage was Sam’s source of income for his paintings. Some of his paintings feature his patrons with their horses and hounds, like the examples at Stonehenge just mentioned. Many of the names of his patrons have been lost over time, but some are inscribed on his paintings, such as John Dawson Duckett Esq. (of Co. Carlow, Ireland), on Lad (dated 1856).

In addition to race horses and hunting horses, Sam also painted military horses.  There is a signed and dated painting of Prince Albert’s charger in 1853, a signed painting of a horse of the third hussars, and a painting signed SPODE of Queen Victoria’s horse with royal tack attributed to the almost certainly fictitious John Spode.

The victory at the battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 propelled its heroes into contemporary popularity. This meant that there was a market for paintings of the Earl of Cardigan’s charger named Ronald, and Sam did at least four different paintings of this horse. However, the battle of Balaclava was probably never ingrained in the national conscience as much as the battle of Waterloo, and its hero the Duke of Wellington, and, from Sam’s point of view, the Duke’s charger named Copenhagen.

Several versions of Sam’s paintings of Copenhagen have passed through sale rooms in recent years, and the one sold at Christie’s on 28th November 2002 was signed and inscribed ‘Copenhagen - the Charger of the Duke of Wellington, at Waterloo - the 100th picture of him painted by Mr Spode.’  This at least confirms that Sam was a high volume painter. Whether Sam actually saw Ronald and Copenhagen is unknown, though possible, but when his various paintings of these two horses are compared, there are minor differences in their markings, indicating that Sam was more concerned with marketing memorabilia than historical accuracy!

Sam seems to have utilized a number of standard settings in which to paint his subject horses. His painting of Voltigeur, has striking similarities with several other of his paintings, and there are strong similarities of his portraits of horses in stables, for example, Caractacus, winner of the Derby in 1862.

During the 1850s, notable race horses of which Sam produced signed paintings include: Nancy winner of the Goodwood Cup in 1851; Blink Bonny, winner of both the Derby & the Oaks in 1857; Beadsman, winner of the Derby in 1858; and Black Prince, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) in 1859.

At some time in the late 1850s, Sam probably began to regard Ireland as his home. Ruff’s Guide to the Turf 1860 mentions three horses named after him, (Sam Spode, Mrs Spode and Miss Spode, all foaled by the same mare). All three of these horses raced in Ireland in 1859, two of them are listed as nominations for running in 1860, and Sam Spode, the artist, certainly painted Sam Spode the racehorse.

It was probably during the 1850s and 1860s that he produced a number of paintings of various horses or dogs in landscape settings, a few specifically named in Ireland.

Evidence that Sam had made his home in Ireland in the 1860s comes from the chance discovery of some news sheets which were found attached to one of his paintings sold in an Irish auction house in 2012. The auctioneer’s catalogue doesn’t mention them, but an observant researcher who attending a viewing noticed them, and recorded them. The principal item was an ode by Samuel Spode dedicated to the master of the Kilkenny Fox Hounds, who is named and became that master in 1861 for about nine years. This lengthy ode by Sam may have been his sales leaflet, as four lines near the end of it run as follows :  “Having finish’d Dicks picture, I’m so far explicit; Other horses to pourtray, I beg now to solicit; Or I must move off back to England I fear; But I’d much rather stay, and be painting well here!” The same ‘sales leaflet’ concludes with text described as “Sam Spode’s Hunting Song, composed by himself and sung all over the world”.

Although Ireland may have been his base in the 1860s, (he married an Irish girl at the registrar’s office in Dublin in 1866, despite his English wife still being alive), he continued to visit England. He painted Hawthornden, the winner of the St. Ledger in 1869 and Favonius, the winner of the Grand National in 1871, and was in lodgings in London on census night in 1871.

The following year, he died in Dublin on 31 March, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery on 2 April 1872.  His death was registered by a lady named Teresa Spode, though she was not his wife of 1866.  What her relationship was with Sam is anyone’s guess – perhaps another common law wife?
Written and submitted by Peter Roden, Sam Spode's great, great grandson, who has researched the Spode family history, and published articles about both Josiah Spode I and his grandson, the artist Samuel Spode, the subject of this biography.

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About  Samuel Spode

Born:  1798 - Stoke upon Trent, Staffordshire, England
Died:   1872 - Dublin, Ireland
Known for:  horse and dog portrait painting, equestrian genre